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Sami win long fight for reindeer grazing rights

Sami win long fight for reindeer grazing rights

Published: 27 Apr 2011 12:17 GMT+02:00
Updated: 27 Apr 2011 12:17 GMT+02:00

Sweden's Supreme Court (Högsta Domstolen) has ruled that Sami reindeer herders in northern Sweden can continue to let their animals graze in forests despite the objections of landowners, ending a 20 year dispute.

The relief was tangible among the Sami who had gathered in Umeå to receive the verdict.

"Finally it is over. We have had 14 years of uncertainty, so this is something we have been waiting for. Finally life can go back to normal routines," said Oleg Omma, the chair of Umbyn Sami village (Upmeje tjeälddie).

The Supreme Court upheld a Court of Appeal for Upper Norrland ruling from September 2007, which said that the Sami had proven that their ancestors had grazed reindeer on the land in the Nordmaling area "since time immemorial".

"For us this ruling is absolutely crucial. But primarily I see this as incredibly important for all the children and young people in Sápmi who are considering reindeer herding," Omma said, referring to the cultural region traditionally inhabited by the Sami people.

"This will ease concerns in all of Sápmi, for all of us who work with reindeer. It is a ruling for all reindeer herders," he added.

The case had been brought back in 1998, when over a hundred forest owners in the Nordmaling area clubbed together to try to force the Sami to stop using their land for winter grazing of reindeer.

The Sami villages (Siida) of Ran, Umbyn and Vapsten had no right to use the land, the landowners argued, claiming that the forests had not been used for grazing long enough for the Sami to have established the right to use them.

The Supreme Court however found in their favour, ordering the property owners to pay the legal costs incurred by the Sami villages, running to a total of 3.75 million kronor ($617,000).

Michael Hägglund, who owns forests in Sunnanå, Nordmaling, and is one of the landowners who have now lost the protracted dispute, explained that the court's ruling was expected.

"The courts have not dared to take a position in any other way because of the EU and because the Sami are a minority people. The authorities should in fact have sorted this out earlier, before the problem emerged," he said.

The Supreme Court decided to try the case as customary law had not previously been considered. The court's ruling thus sets legal precedent, meaning that lower courts have to follow to the decision.

"Now we have written a piece of history for the Sami. And finally, it is in a positive direction," said Camilla Wikland, who represented the Sami in the case.

TT/Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:33 April 27, 2011 by gplusa
Suck it up, Michael. If you'd won, then the justice system would have been wonderful. Because you lost, it's weak and corrupt. You don't get it both ways.
13:58 April 27, 2011 by jostein
@gplusa

And your glee stems from?
14:06 April 27, 2011 by Rick Methven
"And your glee stems from?"

Maybe from seeing that the court did not knuckle under to the Forestry 'owners'
14:10 April 27, 2011 by gplusa
My glee stems from those people who automatically assume that a system must be corrupt if they don't get the result that they believed they were entitled to. Not so much as a thought that the other side might have felt equally entitled and may have had a stronger case.
16:20 April 27, 2011 by Tanskalainen
Sami girls are HOT!
17:01 April 27, 2011 by Dazzler
Hell let the reindeer graze, nothing is stopping you from filling your freezer!
18:47 April 27, 2011 by swedejane
20 years, good lord...why the rush! So many examples of the well-oiled swedish "system" for us to see.
22:28 April 27, 2011 by jostein
One set of people have been given a carte blanche to use the property of others. This use will turn into abuse.
01:56 April 28, 2011 by waffen
The best news that I have read all week.

Finally, after 20 years, the Sami have the right to live their lives.
02:55 April 28, 2011 by DavidtheNorseman
@jostein - you've got that backwards, mate. The "forest owners" are the johnny come latelys who tried to steal Sami rights by making new rules. Good on the Swedish Supreme Court for seeing Justice served.
04:47 April 28, 2011 by Frobobbles
No, the forest owners did not 'come late'. They are sami too. The late-comers in this court case are the reindeer herders, who arrived to the area long after the sami living there had gone over to other business.

The court case is not a win for the Sami people, but a tragic loss.
08:05 April 28, 2011 by jostein
@DavidtheNorseman

No. It has been impossible to establish historic use in this case. We simply do not know. The court unexpectedly used "sedvanerätt" instead of "uråldrig hävd" which, at least to a layman like me, sounds alot weaker and flimsier.
09:40 April 28, 2011 by HYBRED
Maybe I could get lucky and have them graze a little to close to my Weber grill.
11:40 April 28, 2011 by Nemesis
This ruling is good news.

It is good to see the Sami getting some justice in Sweden. It makes a change from the Swedish government sterilising them under the Racial Hygiene laws until 76.

Hopefully now the Sami community can now grow in peace.
18:53 April 28, 2011 by Zhorka
The move is good but not nearly enough. The land should be expropriated from greedy landowners and made avialable to all people living in the area.
21:11 April 28, 2011 by Tanskalainen
Sami girls are Hot (except for the ones in this photo).
08:44 May 1, 2011 by Grokh
how can people own forests .
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